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Lobos and UTEP Renew Rivalry on Saturday

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Danny Gonzales had two distinct things to talk about this week when meeting with the media, one about the week prior, and one about the week ahead.

“We are putting that one in the rearview mirror” was the basic gist of the Texas A&M game wrap-up.  As for UTEP?  “We should play this one every year.”

Well, they will play it this year and next, as UNM and UTEP meet on the gridiron for the first time in seven years as the former conference mates renew a longstanding rivalry on Saturday night in The Sun Bowl in El Paso at 7 pm on ESPN+ and on the Lobo Radio Network.

The Sun Bowl holds 51,500, but there won’t be that in attendance for the meeting of a pair of 2-1 teams both coming off defeats that smarted a little after two straight wins.  For UTEP, they own a win over New Mexico State, and a win over an FCS team, while UNM also has a win over New Mexico State and a win over an FCS team.  Both teams are playing its last non-conference matchups on Saturday as UNM heads to Mountain West play and UTEP to Conference USA.  One team will leave the Sun Bowl with a 2-2 record and one with a 3-1 record and halfway to a Bowl bid.  Gonzales hopes it’s his charges, but he knows that UTEP will be ready, and certainly thinks they will be the victor.

“You can be sure that are looking at this schedule and looking at New Mexico and putting a little check mark and saying that we can win this one,” said Gonzales.  “Coach Dimel is building their model after Kansas State.  He was with Coach Snyder for many years.”

Gonzales knows UNM will need to be on its A-game in order to have a shot.  “They are a tough football team that plays the right way.  They are a year ahead of us on their mission to turn that program around having got there in 2019.  They play a 4-2-5 and they are pretty aggressive in the secondary,” said Gonzales, who added. “I like watching them on tape because they play the right way.”

The all-time series is 42-33-5 in favor of UNM, and the 80 meetings is the second-most for UNM against any one opponent, trailing only New Mexico State.  The last two meetings were tight affairs.  In 2013 in El Paso, UNM won 42-35 in overtime as the Lobos stopped a fourth-and-1 attempt and then survived a replay review.  The following year, UNM trailed 24-7 and climbed all the way back to tie the game late at 24-24.  After forcing a punt with just under two minutes to go, UNM’s returner Dameon Gamblin fumbled the punt at the Lobo 4-yard line, and UTEP killed the clock and hit a field goal to win 27-24.  It’s been that type of series all the way through.

The Lobos will have to be better on offense, after getting shutout and held to just 122 yards.  “We challenged them to be better, but there are other things,” Gonzales said. “We have to do a better job in the press box of seeing some things that we can have success doing and that’s coaching, that’s not the kids’ fault.”

The game is a homecoming for Lobo running back Aaron Dumas, who led UNM in rushing against Texas A&M. Dumas graduated from El Paso’s Americas High School, and will be playing in front of friends and family.  As Gonzales pointed out, he was enrolled at UNM in the spring, but went back in May for his high school prom, which was only four months ago.  Here’s hoping it’s just as fun a Saturday night for Sumas and the rest of his teammates.